Interviewee: Venora Griffin
Interviewer: Faith McCarthy
Date of Interview: October 4, 1993
M: Could you please give me your full name and your Gainesville address.
G: Venora Fletcher Griffin, and my address is 205 NW 91st Street, Gainesville,
M: You are a retired nurse and I want to talk to you about the program at Alachua
General Hospital. But first I would like to know a little bit of background
information. Where were you from originally?
G: I was born and raised in Dixie County, and I came to Gainesville to start nursing
M: What year was that? What year did you come to Gainesville?
M: What was your family like?
G: My family?
M: In Dixie County.
G: I am the oldest of five children, and I have two sisters and two brothers and my
mom and dad lived on a farm, a big farm. We are a very close-knit family. My
dad died in 1991, my mom still lives on the farm. She visits quite often now. I
married in 1956. My husband [is] James Griffin. We have three children. We
have twin girls and they are both married and have children [and] live here in
Gainesville. Then we have Kimberly, she is twenty. She is a junior at the
College of Nursing out at the University.
M: Is Jennifer the only other nurse in the family?
G: I did not hear you.
M: Is Jennifer the only other nurse in the family?
G: I am a registered nurse, both of my twin daughters are registered nurses. One
just got her boards last week. She did not start nursing school until her family
was old enough and in school. And Kimberly is on the road.
M: What about your sisters?
G: My sister, Theresa, works at the Ayers Medical Plaza. She works in the one-day
M: Is she a nurse?
G: No, she is not a nurse. My other sister lives in Cross City [Florida] and she and
her husband run the Suwannee Lumber Company. My older brother runs Florida
Forest Product in Cross City. It is owned by my sister's husband. And my
younger brother, Tom, is a veterinarian and he and his wife and son live in Perry
[Florida]. He has an animal hospital there.
M: What sort of education did you get in Union County [Mrs. Griffin said Dixie
County]? Public school?
G: I graduated from the Alachua General Hospital School of Nursing after high
school, and from there I went to Santa Fe Community College. I graduated from
there. I went to the University of Florida, got a bachelors in nursing and I got a
master's as a MSN in nursing also at the University of Florida. I did not use the
nursing too much, but it was helpful. I did mostly high school administration and
then I moved to the corporate office of our company and I did a host of other
things, administrative type things.
M: Did you know you wanted to be a nurse when you came out of high school?
G: By the time I came out of high school I knew I wanted to [be a nurse].
M: Did you want to be a nurse or just want to get an education and this was what
was available to you?
G: I wanted to be a nurse.
M: Why did you want to be a nurse? What had led you to that decision?
G: Well, when I was a child I was hospitalized for a period of time and I liked the
nurses and then I had a member of the family (I guess she was a cousin) [who]
was a nurse and she liked it. So I decided that was what I wanted to do.
M: Okay. Can you tell me a little bit about what it was like to apply to the program at
Alachua General Hospital. What sort of regulations or requirements did they
have at that time?
G: The program was three years and that was three full years. We did not get a
summer off or anything. It was pretty intense. A routine day is we had classes
all day long and then we spent time on the floor in the hospital. When we got on
up there, many times we would be in charge of those floors. It gives me the
shivers now, but anyway.
M: At the time did it seem unusual or just part of it? Being in charge of a floor?
G: At the time I was uncomfortable with it, but I felt I knew what I was doing. I was
not so uncomfortable that I thought there was any danger. By that time I felt I
knew what to do. And as I mentioned to you before, we took a number of our
classes at the University of Florida: our anatomy, and physiology, chemistry, and
some of those courses. I do not remember just how many we took at the
University and we would go over there for the class.
M: Did you receive college credit for those classes?
G: No. It was set up. But when I got ready to go back to school, I wanted those
credits. And we were not enrolled, they [the classes] were just a contract with
the University and so I had to take all of those things over again [laughter].
M: So the affiliation between the hospital and the University was a contract and the
students did not get any credit for that?
G: That is what they called it at the time. But they put us in the regular classes, I
mean, it was not any special class or anything. [We did] the regular classes, the
lab. We did the lab, you know.
M: You were with other students that were registered with the University?
G: Yes, regular students.
M: What were some of the restrictions to the program? In other words, were you
allowed to be married while you went to nursing school?
G: Were you allowed to be married? No, no, [it was] very strict! We lived in a
nursing dorm, had a house mother, and back then the rules were you had to be
in [at a] certain time. If you went out during the little bit of time you were allowed,
you had to sign out where you were going and when you would be back. Of
course that was within the rules of when you had to be back. And, I mean, you
could not go anywhere without signing out. The only place you went was to the
classroom or the hospital. And if you got married, you were out.
M: Oh really, even if you married during the program?
M: You were expelled.
G: You just were not allowed to get married. A couple of the girls did, but nobody
knew it [laughter].
M: Did any of the other nursing students know?
G: No. Well, one or two. But, it was very, very strict. I think our class started with
around thirty and wound up with ten or fifteen finishing.
M: It was too hard.
G: Too hard. I know many times we would go to class all day and work at night.
M: Do you think many of those students dropped out from sheer exhaustion?
G: Yes, I think that was one thing and the focus. I mean, you just could not think
about anything else much.
M: For three years.
G: Yes, for three years. And you did not get breaks.
M: What about holidays, even holiday breaks? Were you allowed to return home to
your family during the holidays?
G: Oh yes, we would go home for weekends. Sometimes we would have long
weekends and I would always head home. And I think in the whole year there
was two weeks total that we had off [for] vacation.
M: Was there an age restriction? Did you have to be a certain age woman?
G: You know, I do not remember. I believe there was, I think you had to be
eighteen; [I am] pretty sure, but I do not remember specifically.
M: Was there any mention of men? Were there any male applicants?
M: What about race? Were there any restrictions on race?
G: There were no black applicants. It was never even mentioned.
M: So it was not a restriction, but ...
G: You know I guess it was not an issue either with males or minorities. It was just
something no one thought of at the time.
M: So they were not restricted, they just did not apply?
G: They just did not apply . that I know anything about. No.
M: I noticed from all the pictures that I have seen that there were no men, which is
not a surprise, but that there were no people of different races, it was all white,
M: So I thought I would ask about that.
G: All white females.
M: Do you remember what the nursing wage was when you graduated in the late
G: My wage? I got $75 for two weeks work [laughter]. I graduated September 5,
1955, and immediately went to work, worked two weeks and got $75.
M: Was that about average for women or was that very high? Where was that on
G: I do not know. I assume that was about average for the time. We worked six
days a week then. It was not a five-day week.
M: So that was $75 for twelve days work.
M: Did you still live on the hospital grounds or did you find an apartment?
G: I lived in the nurses dorm for a little over a year. And I got married. My husband
and I built a house during the time we were engaged, so we moved out on
Archer Road and 34th Street. We used to own that corner there were the bank
[Gainesville State Bank] is. That is where our house was, where the bank is
M: You lived in the nurse's dorms until you moved in with your husband?
G: Right. As a matter of fact I had our wedding reception there at the nurse's dorm.
M: The reason I am interested in your going back to school [is because] you finished
your nursing degree and you could have continued to work as a nurse, but you
chose to go into administration and that is why you went on in school?
G: I initially worked on one of the floors at the hospital, and then I started relieving
the head nurse, and then I was a head nurse, [and] then I was a clinical
instructor. I would teach nursing assistants. Then I was a house supervisor, and
[then], lo and behold, I was director of nurses.
M: How long a period from graduation to that?
G: From the time I graduated, this took place over ten, twelve years, until I was
acting director of nurses, okay? I did not want to do that. So they finally got a
nursing director and I was her assistant. [The] time came that she had to go and
they wanted me to do it again, and so I did. Things really got moving with the
hospital and [they] got a new administrator. It was quite obvious that you could
not stay in management and not have the education, and so I went back with
the hospital's help and encouragement. They had a program where they would
let you go [to school]. I got my bachelor's and master's; I got it in a four year
One summer I took twenty-five credit hours, but by that time I had developed the
discipline and I was a much better student than I was. I did not work during that
time you lost no time going to school and the hospital would help you through
the program, you would come back with a position equal to the one you had or
better. So when I finished, I went back as an assistant administrator. I did that a
few years and then I went on the to corporate office and by that time the
company had bought up hospitals all around Williston, Rabard Hospital in
Starke, Suwannee Hospital, Lake Shore Hospital. I traveled around to those
M: And you were building a family, too, at this time, I imagine. You were having
your children and managing a home?
G: Oh, yes. There is sixteen years difference between the older girls and Kimberly.
I had Kimberly while I was director of nurses.
M: What year was that, what year was Kimberly born?
M: What did your fellow administrators think?
G: We have enjoyed her. She has had like three mothers with the older girls. And
that was fun.
M: Was your pregnancy accepted by the people that you worked with and
G: Yes, fairly well. When she was born, I had to have a C-section [Caesarean], but
anyway, I was off on leave of absence for three months. And then they started
calling me at two months wanting [me] to come back. There was a question
back then of whether you could have that long of a leave of absence for
maternity reasons, and we had a couple of women on the board of trustees.
M: They fought you on that?
G: They pursued that issue.
M: Against you? Were they against you, were they trying to press that issue? Tell
me a little about that.
G: Well, I knew them quite well because they were at the activities and everything.
They just felt that leave should be granted.
M: Oh, so they were supportive?
G: Yes, they were very supportive.
M: And without their support ...
G: The one that was so supportive, was Jean Chalmers.
M: Do you think that you would have been able to retain your position without their
G: Without those ladies?
G: Oh, yes. I had support of the board of directors, because I did a good job. I ran
a nursing service and it was better than they had been used to, and they were
very supportive, all of them.
M: Who was that?
G: Mr. Cary Edwards was the chairman of the board during this transition, and part
of the hospital, the 1959 edition is named after him.
M: I am interested in seeing how you look at nursing today. There has been
tremendous changes. What are some of your impressions of nursing today?
G: The difference then and now [of] nursing? Oh, a lot. I can remember (and I
think "I just could not have done that,") when the nurses wanted to wear
pantsuits uniforms. And I thought horrors [laughter] [you] cannot do that. I
can remember when we had caps, and I thought everybody should have that cap
on and gave some people hard times that did not have that cap and I am so
ashamed of myself now [laughter]. I went through all of that. It was not too long
after I graduated that the hours moved from six days to five. Nurses started
doing more and more and more.
M: More responsibility?
G: Yes. Their responsibilities increased, increased, increased. I saw that. It was
during those times that we opened intensive care units. After I finished school
and went back we developed a hospice, and it is coming along real well. But I
was in on the development of that. As a matter of fact, I hired one of my
classmates that was in the master's graduate program with me, and she is still
running that hospice. She said, "Well, I do not know how to run a hospice. I do
not know anything about that." I said, "I do not either. But I have been gathering
information and you can do it." She is real smart, you know. She has done an
We carried that thing. It started over [in] Palatka, you know. I think we had eight
counties we were going to [work on]. About the time that I had to quit work, she
had just gotten into all eight counties. Then I think they picked up some more
counties since I have been gone. So, they have done some good work.
M: It sounds like you have, too.
G: Oh, I have a lot of experience, [a] wonderful career. I would still be at it if it was
not for ...
M: Your hearing. Well, I was going to ask you that. You do not have any regrets
about becoming a nurse.
G: No regrets, none whatsoever.
M: Do you think at the time that you went to nursing school that there were many
options for women. Do you think that most women either had to become a nurse
or a teacher? What other options were open to me?
G: What other options were open to me? I could have taught at Santa Fe, I know,
in the nursing program out there, possibly at the University of Florida. I was a
certified risk managers, you know. And there were very good jobs around and
about for risk managers. I got offers from other places.
M: As a young girl coming out of high school in the 1950s, what were your options?
G: Not many. That is probably why I went into nursing. In the 1950s there was not
any teaching, nursing that was the main thing.
M: That was it. Well, I think that is it. I have asked you all my questions and I
appreciate this interview. I think we have covered just about everything. Thank